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St. Pete Council District 4: Darden Rice cruises to re-election

By Divya Kumar, Times Staff Writer
St. Petersburg City Council District 4 incumbent Darden Rice (right) greets voter Kriss Hughes, 55, as she heads into the Coliseum to vote in Tuesday's election. In the background (on right) mayoral candidate Rick Baker also greets voters. [DIRK SHADD | Times ]

ST. PETERSBURG — City Council member Darden Rice easily won a second term in Tuesday night’s election by carrying 72.6 percent of the vote against political rookie Jerick Johnston.

ELECTION DAY 2017: Get the latest news and results from the Times Bay Times.

Rice had about 41,000 votes, more than twice the 15,000 votes that Johnston won in his first run for political office. That was the preliminary result of all 92 precincts, early voting and partial mail ballots.

She is the current City Council chair and was first elected in 2013. She also sits on the boards of Forward Pinellas, the county’s transportation planning agency, and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. The former president of the League of Women Voters said she’s excited to return to office for another four years.

"Public service is such an incredible opportunity and honor," Rice said. "I’m humbled by the vote tonight. There’s still a lot of important work yet to be done and I want to continue that work."

Her opponent, Johnston, is a 21-year-old University of South Florida St. Petersburg student who owned his own business. The two shared an amicable race compared to the other ones, avoiding trading barbs at candidate forums. Rice’s mailers and television ad didn’t even mention Johnston.

Rice, who raised $170,536 in campaign contributions — more than 30 times that of her opponent, according to the latest reports — has said her priorities this term will be in fixing the sewage system, improving the regional and city transportation systems and advancing St. Petersburg’s sustainability and resiliency initiatives.

"I think the citizens of St. Pete have spoken loud and clear that we want to continue in that positive direction," she said. "We heard it loud and clear we need renewed focus on infrastructure."

Rice spent the day campaigning at Robert’s Rec Center and The Coliseum and meeting with voters.

She said that after the election she plans to help Johnston in his goal of bringing more young voices into local government.

Johnston said he hasn’t decided if he’ll run again, but said he wants to stay involved.

"I look forward to working on city council and working with the mayor and keep improving the quality of life to live, work and play in St. Pete," he said. "I’m still immensely proud of running a campaign on the budget we did."

After a thorny mayoral race, Rice said the city will need to focus on unity.

"I think we need to heal after this mayoral election," she said. "I realized what we’re working on is greater than what divides us. The way we move forward reflects all those different opinions."

Contact Divya Kumar at [email protected] Follow @divyadivyadivya.